DURING the first lockdown last March, in my little terraced street, we gathered outside in our individual gardens to celebrate the work done by frontline workers. We banged pots, sang Scottish songs and for some, a tipple was enjoyed too. For that moment we looked at each other anew noticing each other’s smiles, the common experience and the humanity we shared, stripped of man-made differences. As the newest neighbour, I found it cathartic and comforting in troubled times to express my appreciation for the NHS staff and other key workers alongside my immediate neighbour, 87-year-old Sandy, who’d been there 50 years.

But, so much has changed since then. Despite the roll-out of vaccines there is a terrible sense of cynicism at how the crisis has been handled by governments and institutions, almost 78,000 lives have been lost to Covid-19, many of us have lost family or friends to the virus, the economy is seriously injured and, as the First Minister says, “folk are scunnered”.

These days, if we are clapping for carers we are seen as “virtue signallers” a term surely invented by folk who just can’t be bothered getting involved in any sort of community initiative or charity fundraising. These days, if we want to clap the carers we are somehow letting the UK Government off the hook for delaying the nurses' pay rise. These days we are told if we want to help the NHS we should firmly stay indoors and avoid needless forays onto our doorsteps in the biting chill of a January night.

There are those who say they refuse to clap because they don’t want to applaud what they see as the hopeless mismanagement of things like Test and Trace, or Test and Protect, and even the vaccination programme, whilst others berate the clappers for hypocrisy – clapping one minute and inviting four pals in for a quick snifter the next. In fact, there has been so much negativity directed towards the founder of Clap for Heroes, as it is now called, Annemarie Plas, that she has distanced herself from it saying: “Since announcing the return of the applause yesterday, I have been targeted with personal abuse and threats against myself and my family by a hateful few on social media”. In a surefire signal that 2021 is going to be as messed up as 2020, even the seemingly innocuous act of putting our hands together has become weapon’s grade controversial.

When one of my neighbours asked yesterday in a WhatsApp message if anyone was going to clap, her message was met with a thoughtful silence. I suspect we were all having the same raging internal dialogue: Would frontline workers rather not have better pay than claps? Is clapping, in fact, making us all soft and sentimental, when we should be spiky and challenging our leaders to do better? Is there a danger the clapping is hijacked by political leaders to make them look like they care? And who exactly are the heroes – NHS workers, teachers, postal workers, delivery drivers?

Because depending on events and one’s worldview, some are seemingly more heroic than others. Some commentators like influencer and cook Jack Munroe think we should instead write to or email en masse our elected representatives every Thursday at 8 to demand they do their bit to ensure fair wages for all essential workers. You know things are bad, when you’re having these constant arguments with yourself over a mere 60 seconds of applause.

Despite the inner conflict, the snow-covered paths, freezing temperatures and dark, swirling fog some of us did clap. We clapped to show our deep appreciation for all those who keep the country functioning on a day to day basis exposing themselves to a new strain of the virus which is 70% more transmittable.

But we also clapped to remind ourselves that we all have a job to support these workers in what they do, and resolve to do more than just clap.

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